Saturday, December 25, 2010

dark holidays

Bridges and Jones shine in an atypical holiday movie.
Every Christmas, my wife and I treat ourselves to a double-bill of two of our favorite films, titles which are only peripherally related to the holiday.

Our matinee is Morton DaCosta's "Auntie Mame" and our evening program is Richard Quine's "Bell, Book and Candle." Perhaps not coincidentally, both were major year-end holiday releases in 1958.

We never divert.

But if we did, I'd suggest two other titles are are far removed from the usual suspects - you know, "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

First, there would be Tim Burton’s exquisite “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), one of the best film musicals of recent years that clearly prepared Burton for the task of taking on Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” - and almost as triumpantly. Like the Sondheim classic, "Nightmare" boasts a major song score by Danny Elfman, gloriously symphonic and gloriously idiosyncratic.

The combination of Elfman's songs, Burton's strangely appealing little characters and director Henry Selick's wonderous stop-motion animation combine to make "The Nightmare Before Christmas" compulsively watchable.

Then there's Daniel Petrie's superior 1969 TV film, "Silent Night, Lonely Light." The estimable Robert Anderson (who penned "Tea and Sympathy" and "I Never Sang for My Father") wrote the lovely play on which Patrie's movie is based - about two lonely people who have a chance meeting as a cozy New England inn during the Christmas holiday.

Each one is there for personal, troubling reasons.

On stage, "Silent Night" was directed by Peter Glenville with Henry Fonda and Barbara Bel Geddes in the leads and Lois Nettleton, Bill Berger, Peter De Vise and Eda Hainemann in support. It opened at the Morosco Theater on December 28th, 1959 and was immediately snapped up for filming by Universal which then let the project linger for ten years.
No, the film version of "Silent Night, Lonely Night" was not made for theaters. Nevertheless, it's an excellent movie, intimate and involving.

Lloyd Bridges (outstanding) and Shirley Jones (an Emmy nominee) take over the Fonda-Bel Geddes roles (and would subsequently be reteamed in Richard Brooks' "The Happy Ending" the same year); Carrie Snodgress plays the Nettleton part and Lynn Carlin and Cloris Leachman show up in roles created for the film by adapter John Vlahos, who wisely retained most of Anderson's script. Its dialogue is nearly verbetim.

It's a wrenching work that, for some bizarre reason, is never telecast during the holiday season and is available only on out-of-print VHS tapes.



wwolfe said...

A pleasant coincidence: I, too, chose "Bell, Book, and Candle" as my Christmas movie this year - on a double with "The World of Henry Orient," another lovely New York memento of the same era.)

joe baltake said...

You've got great taste, Bill. That's a terrific double-bill.